Milos Degenek. The Australian international was born in Serbia and until recently played his club football in Japan. A hearty, lofty defender who is frustrated when losing but the first to celebrate when winning. Now in Serbia, he faces a challenge like no other.
Milos Degenek grew up supporting Red Star Belgrade. For those of you not keeping count with Serbian football, this is the most popular and successful team to come out of Serbia. They are consistently in European football, whether it’s the Champions League or the Europa League; they are on the radar of continental football even if they cannot emulate the same level of success they enjoy at the domestic level.
They did, however, win the European Cup back in 1991; becoming one of the anomalies of the competition.
A dream come true
After spells in Germany and more recently, Japan, the central defender finds himself playing for the club he supports. A dream come true, wearing the professional shirt you bought replicas of with your pocket money; when you were a child.
The move from Yokohama F-Marinos to Red Star Belgrade added more speculation that the clubs hold an informal arrangement given the abnormal amount of transfer business between the two sides in recent years.
Unsurprisingly, Red Star is at the top of Serbian SuperLiga already. Five games in, they’ve won all five. It’s this year’s Champions League competition which is so fascinating for the team. The Socceroo was ever present as his team four two-legged ties to ensure their participation in this year’s Champions League competition. Throw in the domestic competition as well and you understand how much these smaller European teams put into the start of their year, and for most get little back.
Red Star, however, triumphed on the continent, defeating teams from Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. The final test, however, was against Red Bull Salzburg. The energy-drink backed club is a stalwart of the Champions League. They don’t have wings big enough to flap out of the group stage, they are often they and make things difficult for teams visiting Austria.
After the first game, the tie was locked, goalless in the Serbian capital. 48 minutes into the tie, and in their local tongue: Crvena Zvezda looked out of it. Two goals down, surely they’d be no escape for the Serbian princess this time. Yet, Degenek is not C-3PO. He believed his plan would indeed bring balance to the game.
When the team was down, with less than half to play, they went for it. They needed to. Pavkov, a homegrown striker, came on in the 50th minute, verifying that the team was still fighting. They were still on the back foot though, Salzburg controlled a lot of the ball and defended well. They limited the Serbs to very little.
That was until Degenek pinged a high cross above absolutely everyone to the far side of the box. He won the ball back for his team just seconds before, then simply posted it directly to El Fardou Ben’s boot. The Comoros international was only too happy to tap it in from close range.
Now with momentum shifting, Red Star stuck at it. They left the center-backs forward as everyone piled forward for even an indirect free-kick in their own half. Krstičić delivered a killer ball into the box which Degenek headed towards goal. Despite goal-bound El Fardou Ben smashed it in with his own head just be sure to avoid a scramble at the post; but the hard work had already been done.
The former Yokohama F-Marinos player essentially unlocked the Champions League for his club, being so instrumental in getting the goals. Now, they were going through on the away goals. The Canadian-capped keeper, Borjan, kept Red Star in the game for the remaining minutes, but he was up to the task, in turn, Red Star turned the tie on its head successfully.
Liverpool, Napoli and PSG
So what awaits Degenek and the Serbian side? Well, you know Liverpool, Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain. Say what? That’s a group of death! Three amazing teams and Liverpool! I jest of course. Ironically, Red Star probably has won the most domestic trophies out of the lot of them. Yet rightly so are underdogs in this group. Realistically it’s hard to see them progressing past the group, but the away days themselves will be fantastic.
Put yourself in Degenek’s boots, where he was either playing colossal (yet far from full) stadiums or very tiny ones in Japan, now gets to ply his trade at Anfield, the Stadio San Paolo and the Parc des Princes. It’s the stuff of dreams, to wear your boyhood club’s shirt in these fantastic theatres of football. At the not-so-old age of 24, should he do well and play like he did against Salzburg, the sky is the limit. Who knows where he might end up.